“For all of our veterans here, please understand that we’re doing this all for you. All of our time, all of our support, it’s all for you,” said Anthony Hsieh, CEO of loanDepot, who conceptualized the unique sportfishing tournament in 2018. He added, “It’s amazing how far we’ve come in three years, and there’s already a lot of interest and chatter about next year’s Tournament. I am hopeful that the world will stabilize, so that we can prepare for an unprecedented Year Four.”
This year’s Tournament faced unprecedented challenges. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe in early Spring, Tournament organizers worked diligently to establish a series of stringent safety protocols, including a rigorous series of COVID-19 tests, that would ensure the health of all participants. The Tournament also reduced the number of participants to ensure appropriate distancing could be maintained across the event. And, while the scale may have been slightly less than originally planned, the impact was significantly greater.
“The spirit around this year’s event has been unparalleled—and completely unexpected,” added Hsieh. “During the Boat Parade, people were literally running out of their homes, flags in hand, to honor our veterans. The patriotism we’ve all felt has been amazing. My hope is that this Tournament will continue well beyond what we can imagine today.”
The 2021 Tournament is already in the planning stages, with a goal to host more than 100 veterans and raise $1M for the continued therapeutic services that are essential to combat-wounded veterans when they return from their tours of service.
This year’s event kicked off on Thurs., Oct. 1st with a first-ever Boat Parade through Newport Harbor. The participating veterans boarded their assigned yachts from Hsieh’s home, which then assembled in the Newport Turning Basin in preparation for the singing of the National Anthem by country artist Tyler Rich. Following the performance, Rich, together with a variety of Tournament participants, led the parade aboard the yacht, Cielo Mare. The Tournament’s 12 participating yachts fell in behind and were joined by more than 60 local boats for a joyous and entertaining loop through Newport Harbor. The Tournament boats then proceeded out to sea to begin their two-day fishing adventure off the pristine waters of Santa Catalina Island, an area considered to be the birthplace of modern sportfishing.
“The Southern California community looks forward to honoring our veterans,” explained Tournament Director Rod Halperin. “Typically, we kick off the Tournament with a large fundraising event for 300 to 400 people, but we knew that, this year, we couldn’t hold that type of gathering, which led us to the idea of holding a Boat Parade.”
Over the next 48 hours, the captains and crews enjoyed their special time with the veterans, sharing their knowledge of the waters, the native fish species and the techniques they use to angle. Marcus C., (Bad Company), landed an impressive 218 lb. bluefin tuna, which was weighed on the iconic green pier in Avalon Harbor to the delight, and surprise, of dozens of Catalina Island tourists. Other exceptional catches included a 7.2 lb. calico bass caught by Enrique S. (Sea Horse); a 15.1 lb. halibut caught by Woody D. (Determined); a 26.2 lb. dorado caught by Drew M. (Sea Horse); a 28 lb. yellowtail caught by Steve F. (Play-N Hookey); a 37.4 lb. rockfish caught by Steve F. (Play-N Hookey); and a 61.2 lb. yellowfin caught by Brent W. (Joint Venture). Matt R. (Adventure), Mike W. (Bad Company), Ryan B. (Dialed Inn) and Drew M. (Sea Horse) each caught and released a striped marlin.
The Tournament concluded with great pageantry, as the 12 yachts assembled outside Avalon Harbor for a patriotic flyover of vintage World War II planes.
“We’re honored to celebrate and support the veteran community,” said Colby Durnin, owner of Joint Venture. “It’s our immense pleasure to share our love of the sea and of sportfishing with these true patriots, and to give them experiences that provide them with profound healing.”
“So often, what I hear most from the veterans I talk with as we plan these events are the words ‘I think someone else deserves to be here more than me’,” said Josh Miles, Director of Military and Charitable Programs for Freedom Alliance. “The veteran community is extremely humble. The outpouring of support and generosity that continues to come from the Southern California community—and specifically the sportfishing community—is unlike anything I’ve seen. This year has been especially challenging for the veteran community overall, and this event has meant the world to these men.”
Upon return to Newport Beach, the veterans celebrated with an outdoors awards ceremony held on the lawn of the Newport Beach Country Club. The venue provided the privacy—and appropriate distancing—essential to maintain the health protocols established for their safety. The joy of the weekend was clearly evident, and, between awards, the veterans continued to share stories, insights and hugs—reinforcing the bonds of friendship that will continue forward for years to come.
Also in attendance was Julia Morris, Freedom Alliance 2020 Scholarship Student Ambassador. A graduate of Virginia Tech with three majors: Sociology, Criminology and Psychology, Julia is one of 499 students who are currently receiving scholarships from Freedom Alliance. She is the daughter of Captain James J. Morris, who lost his life 20 years ago when his plane crashed in a training accident. Freedom Alliance serves as the charitable partner for War Heroes On Water.
“I feel very grateful to have been given a Freedom Alliance scholarship,” said Julia, “because it helped me financially, but it has also connected me with a community of people who can relate to me and who have been through a similar experience. I feel like I have a whole new family and support system, not only in the other students I have met, but in the gracious people who work at Freedom Alliance. It also shows me that my father’s sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
The most important award of the evening is the Ron Ashimine Award, bestowed up on the best angler of the Tournament. The award is named for Ron Ashimine, a lifelong angler and veteran who passed away in 2019, and who holds a special place in the hearts of the SoCal sportfishing community.
This year’s winner, Drew M. (Sea Horse) had a special message that especially resonated with all attendees, “We stand on the shoulders of much greater men and women than us. We must remember that every single day of our lives. Every single thing we do, every single step we take, be mindful and know that people have made greater sacrifices than we have; and that’s why we’re here today.”
Other awards included: Enrique S. (Sea Horse), Calico Bass Division. Steve F. (Play-n Hookey), Rockfish Division. Woody D. (Determined), Halibut Division. Steve F. (Play-N Hookey), Yellowtail Division. Brent W. (Joint Venture), Yellowfin Division. Marcus C. (Bad Company), Bluefin Division. Drew M. (Sea Horse), Dorado Division. Drew M. (Sea Horse), Matt R. (Adventure), Mike W. (Bad Company), Ryan B. (Dialed Inn), Marlin Division. First Place Qualifying Angler: Brent. W. (Joint Venture). Second Place Qualifying Angler: Drew M. (Sea Horse). Third Place Qualifying Angler: Darren M., Donnie L., and Dirk L. (Shannon Rose). First Place Weight Division: Drew M. (Sea Horse). Second Place Weight Division: Brent W. (Joint Venture). Third Place Weight Division: Steve F. (Play-N Hookey). First Place Top Boat Award: Sea Horse. Second Place Top Boat Award: Joint Venture. Third Place Top Boat Award: Play-n Hookey. Ron Ashimine Award for Top Angler: Drew M. (Sea Horse). Second Place Top Angler Award: Brent W. (Joint Venture). Third Place Top Angler Award: Steve F. (Play-n Hookey).
At the conclusion of the event, the veterans departed for their homes and the captains, crews and event organizers began envisioning what next year’s Tournament experience might look like.
“This Tournament has the potential to become much larger than anything we could have ever imagined,” said Hsieh. “And that’s all because of the dedication and heart displayed by the sportfishing and SoCal communities.”
The 2020 WHOW Tournament Fleet includes: Bad Company 75 (Anthony Hsieh); Adventure (Paul Lepore); Determined (Dan Gorman, Zac Cullen); Dialed Inn (Randy Pennington); Gad Zukes (Greg Zucchero); Incognito (Kevin Reardon); Joint Venture (Colby Durnin); Motivator (Mark Mitchell); Play-n Hookey (Bill Larkin); Sea Horse (Bruce Ferguson); Shannon Rose (Shaun Keating); and Wild in Sac (Mark Heinz).
About War Heroes on Water (WHOW)
War Heroes on Water (WHOW) is an annual sportfishing Tournament of unprecedented scale that supports combat-wounded veterans programs. It was conceptualized in 2018 by loanDepot Founder and CEO, Anthony Hsieh, who also is the owner and leader of Team Bad Company, a world-class, record-holding competitive sportfishing fleet. Through Hsieh’s deep connections with the Southern California sportfishing and business community, WHOW has grown exponentially, raising $1M for veterans since its inception.
About Freedom Alliance
Freedom Alliance has provided more than $16 million in scholarship assistance and supports the rehabilitation needs of wounded troops through recreational therapy retreats, Heroes Retreats, mortgage-free homes, and all-terrain wheelchairs. Visit www.FreedomAlliance.org or www.facebook.com/FreedomAlliance.
SOURCE War Heroes on Water